Under the influence: prescription opioids

Opioids 52
Opioids 70

A typical knee replacement surgery starts with a 6 to 10-inch incision and can take up to 2 hours. Several weeks post-surgery, patients may resume light activity such as walking and driving.1 All the while; there is lingering pain from the surgery, physical therapy, and everyday movements. Pain management is a critical step in the recovery process: it means helping people engage in the physical activities needed to regain pain-free mobility. Oftentimes pain management may involve prescription medications like hydrocodone or OxyContin®, both powerful opioids.

Do you know someone who had a major or life-altering surgery? Did that person take prescribed opioids as part of their pain management regimen? How did they describe their experience?

A Mayo Clinic study published in 2010 reported that an estimated 1 million hip and knee replacements were completed in a single year in the U.S.2 In 2017, 58 prescriptions for opioids were written for every 100 Americans with an average of 3.4 opioid prescriptions dispensed per patient.3 Under these conditions, pain management can transform from a necessary component of the healing process into something dangerous and potentially deadly.

If someone close to you were struggling with a dependence on opioids, would you know how to spot a problem or see the signs of addiction?

Identifying someone’s dependence on a drug can be challenging, especially if the drug has not completely overtaken a person’s life. They may work a full-time job, keep their appointments, meet for lunch dates, and, in the age of social media, post flattering and positive depictions of their lives. A substance use disorder does not happen overnight; it is gradual and can be difficult to detect even in those closest to you. Nearly a third of Americans say they know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers.4

Here are some common signs of a potential opioid addiction.5

  • Taking more of the prescribed opioid than originally prescribed or continuing on the drug for a longer amount of time
  • Using the prescribed medication as a preventive for pain when no pain is present
  • Significant mood swings
  • Losing medications and needing to get refills
  • Seeking pain management help from multiple physicians and obtaining multiple prescriptions during the process
  • Poor decision making

People who take potentially addictive drugs as prescribed rarely abuse them or become addicted. However, not taking medicine as prescribed or using the medication for an extended period of time can increase the risk of misuse and addiction.5 In 2016, more than 11.8 million Americans reported misuse of prescription opioids;6 130 people die every day from opioid overdoses.7

How do we help to prevent opioid-related deaths?

woman thinking opioids

Shedding stereotypes of drug addiction can be the first step in helping those who are susceptible or struggling with a dependence on opioids. Statistics show that addiction to opioids like heroin affects people from all age groups and all socioeconomic backgrounds.7 Federal agencies, like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, lay out a clear and tangible approach to help combat the opioid crisis.8

  • Better addiction prevention, treatment, and recovery services
  • Better data and research
  • Better pain management solutions
  • Better targeting of overdose-reversing drugs

If you or someone you know is struggling with a growing dependence on opioids, the following resources are available to help start the conversation about recovery or assistance.

At some point in our lives, most of us will need pain medication—after dental surgery, broken bones, joint replacement, or other serious health issue. Pain management is part of the healing process; when used responsibly, opioid use does not have to become opioid dependence or addiction. Education and awareness is key to identifying what an addiction to prescription opioids looks like. Learn how substance use disorders can evolve over a lifetime in our white paper, An Exploration of Addiction.

Download our opioid crisis in the workplace white paper to see the impact of opioid misuse on the American workforce.

To learn more about opioids, visit our website.